Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari is one of those isekai animes where a normal Japanese boy is summoned in a magical realm to fight monsters. Once there, he realizes that the world and his character work exactly as in a fantasy video game, complete with items with upgradeable stats, waves of monsters and revealing female armor. He is summoned there with three other heroes, also from Japan, only from alternate universes, each of the heroes having their own magical item that defines their style. His item is a shield and immediately he notices that he is treated differently, with all honors given to the other three and only disgust for him. Long story short, he is forced to hone his skills through his will and efforts alone, while the others, spoiled by their environment, make no effort and therefore level up less.

I liked this anime and I will continue to watch it, although it's a bit ridiculous. I've read the manga as well, which is also new, and there are slight differences in the sense that the anime is a little more serious. If you want a mindless game like experience in anime form, go for it. Here is a trailer:

Violet Evergarden is set in a steampunk universe in which technology, other than metal prosthetics, is at the 19th century level, and the main character is a girl that was used as an elite child soldier in a terrible war who now has to find a purpose in a civilian life. She takes on the job of a "auto memory doll", a person who needs to put into words the feelings of others. That's a bit of a stretch, because she doesn't know how to feel herself... it's like me taking on a job in psychology or artistic design so as to learn a new skill. Certainly great for me, but kind of sucks for my employer!

Anyway, the animation is really well done and the acting is top notch. The story itself is beautiful, even if at times inconsistent. After watching the 14 episodes of the first season, I was itching for more, only to hear from a colleague that the studio responsible for the animation, Kyoto Animation, was destroyed in a terrible arson attack. That doesn't bode well for a sequel, yet a spin-off film had already been announced, so who knows?

Bottom line: it's not for everyone. PTSD romance, I would call it. But it nicely animated and I liked the story. I felt that the characters were a bit off, but not annoyingly so. Here is a trailer, in English:

I was browsing the selection of films on HBO Go and I have to say, for someone who is used to the options available on torrent sites, the films and series that are available there are both incredibly diverse and woefully inadequate. But if there is something that I am grateful for with that particular network, it is Billy Crystal's autobiographical play. It's called 700 Sundays and it is everything I have come to love about actor biographies... in video format. Within two hours of wonderful acting and playwriting, Billy finds the way to tell the story of his childhood, adolescence and adulthood without once getting into the things we actually know him for: acting, comedy, Hollywood. It's so wonderfully personal that is feels a bit too intimate, like someone describing in detail their love life.

Boy, does this guy love. There is this cliche about comedians that are essentially depressed and fight it, for a while, with humor, until their inevitable depression and subsequent suicide. Billy Crystal is nothing like that! He owns every scene, he fights for his audience and he is proud of his legacy. He is blessed, even while he mourns the death of his parents, because while they were alive, they loved him with all their strength and while he is alive, love is what defines him.

Bottom line: it is two hours of wonder. Whether you watch it on HBO Go or download it from somewhere, it is a must, it is absolutely necessary that you watch what a 67 year old master of storytelling and comedy will make out of his life story. I like biographies and this it one of the best, created in the medium Crystal feels most at home: stand up comedy.

I was half expecting the show to be freely available on YouTube or something similar, but in this day and age, quality is always behind some paywall. I leave you with a trailer to the show and I urge you to see it:

Paranoia Agent (or Delusion Agent, maybe) is an anime by famous anime director Satoshi Kon, unfortunately killed by cancer in 2010. His work is always more than it seems, focusing on the inner worlds of people and how they all perceive things differently.

The anime is only 13 episodes and starts with a simple case of violent assault on the street and then becomes stranger and stranger until it is not clear which is real and which is in someone's head. It critiques the repressive Japanese society and human nature in general, it goes from police procedural to slapstick comedy, from horror to psychological drama. The ending is, as they say, a mystery that doesn't stay solved for long. I quite liked the anime and I recommend it highly. It is rarer and rarer to find Japanese anime which is not derivative or simply idiotic.

Well, it ended a while ago, but I've just now got around to watching the last episodes from the sixth and last season of The Americans. It was a very interesting concept, following around two Russian spies that pretend to be a normal two kid and a picket fence couple while doing missions for the KGB on American soil. Luckily, it was set during the height of the Cold War, not now, so none of that fake news Twitter bull.

It was well played, too: Mathew Rhys and Noah Emmerich are both great as the Russian male agent and the unknowing FBI agent who moves right next door on one of faith's whims. However, it was Keri Russell who shone throughout the sometimes uneven run of the show. I mean, people knew her from Felicity, where she was a cute cheerful university student, but in this show she is seductive when she needs to get someone's trust, ruthless and unstoppable when she needs someone dead, unwaveringly loyal to her home country and hard as a rock underneath her ever changing appearance and disguises.

You can't run a show for six seasons and not evolve your characters (well, a lot of shitty shows do that), but The Americans excels in making the main characters have to face not only the consequences of their missions, but also the consequences of normal people living their lives. If Nadiejda the spy grows throughout the show, so must Elizabeth the wife and mother. I especially admired the twists and turns of Philip's moral qualms and how he wanted to reconcile his different personas while Elizabeth chose splintering apart as her way to cope.

Now, not all is well with this show. There were seasons when nothing interesting was actually happening. Henry's character never evolved away from a stupid kid that asks no questions and is missing from the series for entire seasons, while his sister not only was figuring it out, but was also recruited as a "second generation" agent. Admittedly, Holly Taylor was annoying as hell in that role, but she didn't write her character's script. I also suspect that people got turned away from the show by the brilliant portrayal of a loyal Russian agent by Keri Russell. She was too hard, too Russian, too human for comfort. I can only admire both her and the show developers for going all the way in with her character.

All in all, I have mostly good things to say about the show and if you have not watched it, I highly recommend it. It seems to me that this show has enough followers to warrant a full feature film production in which the actors could shine in a one-off mission spy movie. I am also curious on what Keri Russell will do other than a rumored Star Wars appearance that I believe is a poor choice for someone who shone so brightly in a real role.

About the ending... it actually ends. It's not one of those shows that get cancelled without any preparation, leaving everything in limbo. However it is also one of those endings that is generic enough for them to have planned it seasons ago. We see some of the consequences spell out, but there is not enough time to really understand where it all leads to. It was nice to see the reactions of the characters to the sudden end, but it was certainly not enough to make a statement about the real outcome of their actions.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is the film that banks on the hunger of Alchemists all over the world after the Brotherhood series ended. It is not a sequel, just a full feature film happening sometime around the 21st episode of the series. The story is complicated: three nations in turmoils, alchemy of all sorts, chimeras and in the middle of it all: Ed and Al, fighting for what is right.

I liked the story, it hit a lot of sour points of the present, with large nations literally shitting on smaller ones, while they can only maintain their dignity by hanging on old myths that give them moral rights over some God forsaken territory. What I didn't particularly enjoy were the characters and the details of the plot. There were many holes and, in all, no sympathetic characters. The few promising ones were only barely sketched, while the main ones were kind of dull. The animation also felt lazy. If this was supposed to be a send off for the characters, it exceeded its purpose, as now I am considering if I would have even enjoyed a series made in such a lazy way.

So, bottom line, part cash grab, part great concept. A promising film that reminded me of the series I loved so much a decade ago, but failed to rekindle the hunger I felt when the series ended. Goodbye, Elric brothers!

I've watched several lackluster recent Japanese animes from Netflix and I was feeling bored and disappointed with the clichés spouted by almost every character, most of them as cardboard as they can be. So when I started with Devilman Crybaby, a very original show both from the standpoint of the manga it adapts and the animation style, I was hoping for not being bored. And I wasn't. The show is fast, jumping from scene to scene and asking the viewer to extrapolate what happened in between. The characters are complex and seldom critical of one aspect or another of society, or representing such negative treats. Violence and sex are everywhere, although they are often depicted as kinds of vices and impulses that people have to fight against. The animation style is weirdly psychedelic. So did I like it? Not really.

Even from the beginning I was off put by the animation style. It's paradoxically both artistic and very simple. It made me think of Aeon Flux (the MTV animated series), which had several other things in common with this, as well. But I didn't let it bother me and I continued watching. As I said before, the characters are complex and the story is meandering around the peculiarities of each of them, which made it interesting. However, the plot was full of holes! Things that were "revealed" later on were evident from the beginning, people acted in weird ways that were eroding the suspension of disbelief. There were fights, but simplistic in nature and more inline with the symbolism that the author was so hard on. There were substories, but kept to a bare minimum. Do you see a pattern already?

Yes, in its entirety, things that were not important to the philosophical message that the anime wanted to make were abstracted, simplified or removed altogether. It is hard to enjoy any of it after you've got the memo. Even worse, perhaps because of its heavy (handed) symbolism, all the articles and reviews online praise it as a masterpiece. I said it before and I will say it again: just because it is not the usual crap it doesn't mean it's good. There are so many sorts of crap. You read two or three of them, discussing "what they meant", and you realize they are as full of shit as the makers of the anime. If you need to explain what you meant, the joke wasn't very good!

To be less of a dick about it, the show has many redeeming qualities, that is why I can't discuss too much the particulars without spoiling it, and you might want to watch it. However, to me, those qualities were wasted in the pseudo spiritual and moral bullshit that suffused the show. One alleviating circumstance is the source material, written in the 70s, which I have not read, so I can't really compare, but it was the 70s. Weird and wonderful stuff came from back then. This is mostly just weird. And I really hated the title.

Here is the trailer:

Unfortunately, being typical is not a good thing. All characters in A.I.C.O. Incarnation are manga clichés and the few interesting sci-fi ideas are obliterated by the lack of courage in showing body horror and the obvious gaps in logic. The most promising, yet underdelivered concept is that of consciousness and identity. What would happen if brains and bodies were swapped, changed, mingled, etc. This could have been great if each episode explored some way the "malignant matter" affected biology and consciousness, but in truth, less than half of an episode really approaches the idea.

In short, the story follows a group of "Divers" who go into a biological infested area in order to stop said infestation and save people. They have to battle amorphous blob like monsters and government officials and mad scientists to get to their goal. Obviously they are all young and rash and falling in love and trying to protect people and making honor bound promises and so on. It was so by the book that it became nauseating. I think a heavily cut video edit of the first and last two episodes would more than cover the entire series.

It is good that Netflix is paying for more anime adaptations, but this one is not that worthwhile. Still 29 to go, though :) Here is a trailer, if you are still interested:

There is this TV show out there, called Travelers, already well into its second season, that no one seems to be talking about. It's not based on comic book characters, it is actual original content (gasp!). It's Canadian, of course. With no flashy budget and subtle acting, it manages to slip through some ingenious ideas. For one, it is the only show I've seen so far where humanity's fate is controlled by a benevolent artificial intelligence, something I feel it is inevitable.

Groups of people are being "directed" to do things, using the huge computational resources of the AI called The Director and the convenient fact that it resides in the future. Its role is to change the past as to avert the horrible future humanity got to. So called Travelers are being sent to inhabit the bodies of people in the present, essentially killing them and taking over their lives. Very interesting dynamics based on the merging of the traveler personalities and the connections of the people they replaced, too. Considering changing enough of the past would change the circumstances that created The Director, it is a fine line that the show needs to thread. I also find it amazing that a show involving time travel can actually be good, considering most stories break horribly when exposed to the cheap time travel stuff they usually employ for movies and TV.

The cast is great, too, with talented actors in strong roles. You probably know Eric McCormack, Patrick Gilmore, Jennifer Spence or Leah Cairns, but all the others have shows to their belt. The individual episode stories feel fresh, too. They could have gone with the tired storylines of the "team" that solves problems used in a zillion shows before, but instead they go their own way, with a different feel that reminds me of European sci-fi, rather than American.

My recommendation is to give it a go, watch a few episodes, see if it grows on you. It is not something that people see a few scenes of and fall in love, but something that needs a bit of a grind before you become a fan. It is worth it.

Star Trek Continues, a fan production which started in 2013, ended with the eleventh episodes. As so many others, they are ending a perilous enterprise (pardon the pun) through CBS legal issues and moving to other, non Star Trek related, productions. And it's too bad, because you can see that this series had quality rivaling official Star Trek franchises. I have embedded the playlist with all the episodes. Enjoy!



Here is what Vic himself had to say about the ending of the production:

Hungry Trekkies, not nourished enough by the latest Star Trek movies, have been treated with not one, but two Star Trek series this fall. One is Star Trek: Discovery, the other is The Orville.

You may be incredulous at first, considering you are likely to not have heard of The Orville at all and, if you did, you thought it was a Star Trek parody. But no. Four episodes into the series it's pretty clear that this is a serious sci-fi opera, with some comedy added for spice. What about the new Star Trek series? Well, it's set before The Original Series, it has the visuals closer to the Abramsverse Star Trek (but without the flares, thank you very much), it has redesigned Klingons and a pretty impressive first two episodes.

It is too early to discuss the plot of Discovery yet as the premise hasn't even been revealed in its entirety. As of yet I can only tell you that I hate the main character. A human female raised by the Vulcans behaves in a way that makes one believe her education was acquired only from Vulcans in Pon Farr. CBS went all in and made the show available on their own CBS All Access network and hired actors like Michelle Yeoh to play in the pilot.

Yet Orville, with clearly less money and with TV actors and comedians managed to do better. The episodes are separate, like in a traditional Star Trek series, rather than a long serialized story. The plot of each episode is related to social or moral issues, like in traditional Star Trek series. People are positive and talking about themselves and their feelings, like traditional Star Trek series. There is comedy, but it is not part of the scaffolding of the stories. It's just a funny crew in a Star Trek clone that's as close as it gets. And if we are at the subject of celebrity actors, episode four has freaking Liam Neeson in a few scenes.

Conclusion: it may go either way, but right now The Orville seems to have done what I thought people would do: renounce the CBS/Paramount property and their money grabbing schemes, but keep faith with Gene Roddenberry's vision. Because that is the soul of Star Trek, not the money thrown by corporations to turn it into an all action and explosions piece of crap. Still, I have hope for Discovery as well. Only time will tell.

P.S. Now if they would only do Andromeda right...

Finally, finally there is a TV series about an asteroid coming towards Earth and what we are going to do about it. It is called Salvation and it fails in every single respect.

The first alarm bell was Jennifer Finnigan, the female costar from Tyrant. She was terribly annoying in that show where she posed as the voice of reason and common sense, while being a nagging and demanding wife to the ruler of a foreign country. I thought "shame on you, Siderite! Just because she was like that in that show it's no reason to hold it against the actress". In Salvation, she plays the annoying nagging and demanding voice of reason and common sense as girlfriend to the secretary of the DOD.

But that's the least of the problems of the show. The idea is that a brilliant MIT student figures out there is an asteroid coming towards Earth. He tells his professor, who then calls someone and then promptly disappears, with goons watching his house. Desperate, he finds a way to reach to an Elon Musk wannabe and tell him the story. Backed by this powerful billionaire, he then contacts the government, which, surprise!, knew all about it and already had a plan. Which fails. Time to bring in the brilliant solution of the people who care: the EM drive! For which there is a need of exactly two billion dollars and one hundred kilograms of refined uranium. And that's just episode 2.

The only moment we actually see the asteroid is in a 3D holographic video projection, coming from most likely a text data file output of a tool an MIT student would build. Somehow that turns into a 3D rendering on the laptop of the billionaire. Not only does it crash into Earth, but it shows the devastation on the planet as a fire front. Really?

Bottom line: imagine something like Madam Secretary which somehow mated with the pilot episode of the X-Files reboot. Only low budget and boring as hell. There is no science, no real plot, no sympathetic characters, nothing but artificial drama which one would imagine to be pointless in a show about the end of the world, and ridiculously beautiful people acting with the skill of underwear models (Mark Wahlberg excluded, of course). Avoid it at all costs.

Update: oh, in episode 3, the last one I will watch, they send a probe to impact the asteroid and they do it like: "OK, we have a go from the president!" And in the next minute they watch (in real time from Io and from a front camera on the probe) how it is heading towards the asteroid. I mean... why write a story and not make it use anything real? What's the point in that? Even superhero movies are more realistic than this disaster. I know the creators of the show did other masterpieces such as Extant and Scream: The TV Series and Hawaii Five-O, they don't know any better, but at least they could have tried to improve just a tiny sliver. Instead they shat on our TV screens.

Oh, SyFy does it again with a show that is wild, totally over the top and really really fun. Post-apocalypse, hot rod cars that use human blood for fuel, cannibals, wild sex, murder sprees, wild people, Colin Cunningham, corporate overlords, awakened psychotic robots, making fun of corporate overlords, ridiculously attractive people surrounded by ridiculously ugly people... Blood Drive is just too silly to care and too wild to not enjoy. I am watching the third episode already and I am laughing my ass off: "Praise synergy for it provides us with low hanging fruit!", you gotta love that.

Update: of course something truly fun can't last. Blood Drive has been cancelled after just one season.

The Mist is a novella by Stephen King that has been adapted into a great horror movie. I mean, I rated the movie 10 out of 10 stars. So when the TV show The Mist came around I was ecstatic. And then... I watched three episodes of the most insipid and obnoxious series I've seen since Under The Dome. Nay, since Fear of the Walking Dead.

Imagine they removed most of the monsters and replaced them with mostly insects, then they enhanced everything else: small town politics, family matters, teenagers, etc. OK, the original Mist was great because it showed the greatest ugliness was not the interdimensional creatures, but the pettiness of humans. However, it was the right balance between the two. Now, in a TV show that censors words like "fuck", you get to see teenage angst, drug rape, power hungry egotistic policemen, one of the most beautiful actresses from Vikings relegated to the role of an overprotective mother, husband and wife interactions - lots of those, junkies, amnesiac soldiers, priests, goth kids, nature freaks, old people... oh, the humanity! Three episodes in which nothing happened other than exposition, introduction of lots of characters no one cares for and that's about it.

I am tired. I really am tired of hearing that price is driven by offer and demand - which is quite true because that's the definition of price, it has nothing to do with actual value. Same with stories: they are all about people, because people care about people and most people are people. No need for anything too exotic when all you need to do to please most people is to show them other most people. Grand from a marketing point of view, but quite pointless overall, I would say. But who's gonna listen to me, I am not most people after all.

Bottom line: lately there has been a lot of effort invested into TV. HBO and Netflix have led the way by caring about their productions enough to make them rival and even beat not only film productions, but also the original literary material. This has led me to hope against hope that The Mist will be the best horror TV show out there, one that would maybe last two or three seasons at most, but burn a bright light. Instead it is a dying fire that wasn't properly lit and is probably going to take two or three seasons just to properly die out without anyone noticing it is gone, yet managing to poison the legacy of the film forever.

At first I thought Realm of the Damned would be boring. It was a series of comic book images animated via moving them around or deforming them, while a narrator was speaking on the background. The story also had the seeds that have been used so many times with little success: Van Helsing, vampires, werewolves and so on. But it was only one hour long, how bad could it be? And as the story progressed I really enjoyed the experience. And it wasn't because of the gory graphics or the strong voices or the heavy metal music as much as it was the story. Surprisingly deep, it explores not only a world that is dominated by undead monsters, but the inner turmoils of the last defender of humanity. The ending was gripping and terrible and funny at the same time.

I recommend it highly. Here is the trailer: